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A word of advice for robotic assistants: Mimic us

In a study of computer-generated agents, students react more favorably when agent subtly mimics body language.

In what could be an evolutionary coup for a nation of androids, scientists have found that humans respond more favorably to sales pitches from someone who mimics their own body language, reports Wired News.

In an experiment with 69 students at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, researchers conducted an experiment where student volunteers strapped themselves into a 3-D virtual-reality contraption and listened to a realistic computer-generated man or woman programmed to deliver a short pitch advocating that students carry ID whenever they're on campus.

In a phenomenon known by salespeople as the "chameleon effect," the experiment found that subjects responded more favorably if the person they are speaking with subtly mimics the subject's body language. The experiment consisted of two groups. The first had the "digital agents" sit across the table from each student subject and after a four-second delay, mimic the student 's movement exactly. For the other half of the participants, the program used head movements recorded from earlier students. Both test groups were unaware that the mimicry was intentional.

The results were that the students found the mimicking agent more likable, honest and persuasive hence, more likely to see that person's point of view.

"This opens the door to digital agents taking advantage of this strategy and using it for or against us, depending on how you look at it," says researcher Nick Yee, a doctoral student at Stanford and co-author of the paper.

The findings are to be published in the August issue of the journal Psychological Science.